In the United States alone, there have been over 97.5 million positive cases of COVID-19. And according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland, these infections could have lasting and damning effects on long-term neuro health.
The team discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 virus activates the same inflammatory brain response as Parkinson’s disease– which points to a potentially increased risk of neurodegenerative conditions among people who have had COVID-19.
This finding and more came after the researchers examined the virus’ effect on microglia– the brain’s immune cells– which play a crucial role in the progression of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The team first grew human microglia within their laboratory before infecting those cells with SARS-CoV-2.
“We found the cells effectively became ‘angry,’ activating the same pathway that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s proteins can activate in disease, the inflammasomes,” explained Professor Trent Woodruff, who led the study.
Then, after the inflammasomes were triggered, a “fire” was sparked in the brain that began a sustained and chronic domino effect of killing brain neurons.
This led one of the study’s authors, Albornox Balmaceda, to call the finding a “silent killer”– since the outward symptoms of such neuron death would not be observed for years to come.
The team believes that this discovery explains why some individuals who were infected with COVID-19 in the past are more vulnerable to experiencing neurological symptoms that are similar to Parkinson’s disease.
Moreover, the researchers found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was enough to spark the neurodegenerative process and was only further exacerbated if individuals already had Parkinson’s-linked proteins in their brains.